I’ve been watching some Youtube footage of Wayne Shorter’s current and great quartet. I saw this group playing in Dublin about four years ago and it was some of the best music I’ve seen in years – really restored my faith in jazz humanity! I think it’s true to say that it’s very common for even great jazz musicians to coast creatively when they reach a certain age – you go and see a legend playing and all too often what you get is a pale shadow of their former greatness. And the audience often doesn’t even notice the drop-off in musical quality, they’re understandably just thrilled to be in the presence of someone with a great history in the music.
But for me I find it depressing when someone whom I’ve looked up to, been inspired by, learned from, and listened to extensively just doesn’t even try to do something creative or extend themselves in any way. But even though I find it depressing, I also can understand it – it’s HARD to be creative! Even when you’re young and full of enthusiasm and vitality it’s hard. When you get older it gets even more physically demanding to stay on the road, and more mentally demanding to keep stepping up to the plate creatively every day. And when you’ve already been at the pinnacle of the music you could be justified in taking it easy in your latter years. But though I can understand it, I still find it dispiriting.
That’s why it’s so wonderful to see Wayne Shorter is as creative as ever, despite the fact that he’s now seventy six years old! He has a group that’s probably the best he’s ever had and one that REALLY improvises. Their ability to take well known material (Footprints, All Blues) and simple structures (Joyrider) and recreate them in a new form every night, spontaneously and collectively, is both brilliant and inspiring. This is how creative music should be – fresh, unexpected, intense, a result of the collective effort and co-operation of a group of like-minded musicians whose technique is placed at the service of the music. What’s so impressive about Wayne and his group is the mentality they bring to the music, the determination to explore, to discover and above all to be creative in every second of their performance. If as jazz musicians we can emulate this example and attain this determination to be creative and avoid cliché then there’s hope for us all!
Here’s an example –